Tuesday, 26 July 2016

26th July 1816: The London Courier defends the transportation of the Ely prisoners

An editorial in the 26th July 1816 edition of the London Courier attacked the meeting recently held in Ely which expressed disquiet about the transportation of Ely prisoners:
In common with other Newspapers we have inserted some Resolutions, purporting to have been entered into by the Inhabitants of the Town of Ely, assembled at an inn in that city, Mr. JONATHAN PAGE in the Chair. We read those Resolutions with equal astonishment and indignation. As if their object was to raise a clamour against Government rather than to serve the cause of the persons whose case has filled them with such sympathy, Mr. PAGE and his associates do not wait the event of any application either to the Secretary of State or to the Judges, but give instant publicity to their Resolutions. The trials at Ely are fresh in the recollection of all our readers, who must have admired and applauded the manner in which firmness was combined with forbearance, and justice tempered by mercy. Five of the persons convicted were sentenced to be executed, which sentence has been carried into execution. There were nineteen other persons convicted, whose sentences were less severe: of these nine were left in any Ely gaol, and Mr. JONATHAN PAGE'S first resolution declares that these nine had "an expectation regularly notified to them that their punishment would be limited to twelve months’ imprisonment." By whom? By the Judges? Certainly not—for the decision upon the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them depended solely upon the PRINCE REGENT his Ministers. In addressing all the prisoners, Mr. JUSTICE ABBOTT said "Such of you whose lives may, perhaps, be saved by the Crown, that power alone on earth that can save them, must not expect that you shall be dismissed from your offences without undergoing some severe punishment."—But nothing in the Justice’s speech pointed out the particular mode of punishment which these nine were to undergo. But did Mr. PAGE or the Meeting enquire whether any circumstances had occurred to render it inexpedient to keep these men in Ely Gaol?—Did they enquire into their conduct while in gaol? Did they take the pains to ask whether the Magistrates had recommended their removal? Were they anxious to ascertain whether the Judges themselves had approved of it? Did they inform themselves whether or not these nine could not be kept on board the hulks as separate from the other prisoners, as they would be in Ely gaol? When transportation is thought to be the proper commutation for a sentence of capital punishment, some term of transportation must by law be specified; but, although such specified term be for seven years, whether the whole of that sentence be carried into execution depends upon the pleasure of the Crown. The REGENT'S mercy may be again extended, and all further punishment remitted at the end of one year. This will probably depend in the present case on the conduct of the delinquents themselves. 
Mr. PAGE and his associates begin with telling us, that the Magistrates refused the Shire-hall for their meeting: but they do not tell us the Magistrates’ reasons, or that they thought the purport of the meeting improper and unnecessary. No, no: their object seems to have been to give instant publicity to resolutions which appear to have been entered into without any enquiry or investigation, and which could not tend to produce any other effect than clamour. The country is tranquil, they say. Were Resolutions like these complaining of the severity of Government, likely to preserve it so? They accuse Government too of acting upon a supposition that the neighbourhood was in a disturbed state, of encreasing the measure of severity upon a mere supposition, without taking any pains to ascertain the real situation of the country. Were there no Magistrates on the spot capable of giving as accurate information as Mr. PAGE and his associates? Has the Bishop of ELY no palace at Ely? Do they mean to represent him as so supine and negligent? The fact we believe to be, that his Lordship, the Magistrates, and the Judges, all concurred in the necessity of removing these persons from Ely to the hulks, where, we repeat, it will depend upon themselves whether a year shall be the limit of their punishment, or not.

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